Book Review: Sin City (Volume 2) – A Dame To Kill For by Frank Miller

TL;DR – Dwight can handle most things in Sin City until Ava comes calling. He’ll do anything for her, she’s a dame to kill for but is she a dame to die for?

Summary (warning: spoilers)

Go to my book reviews page to read reviews of previous volumes of this Eisner award winning series.

Dwight McCarthy is a private investigator who does jobs that involve digging out skeletons from closets and photographing them. And when it comes to Sin City, there are plenty of people with skeletons in the closet (and plenty of literal skeletons buried in the swamps or beneath the city).

Dwight takes on contracts without fuss. Doesn’t ask too many questions. Minds his own business unless he is paid a large sum to do otherwise. He’s a professional and from the outside appears like a guy who has his head screwed on straight, which is a feat in itself when we talk about the denizens of Sin City.

However, beneath that exterior is a beast wanting to get out. A beast that torments him and will unleash mayhem if he ever loses control. For almost four years, he’s never lost control. He has stayed on the straight and narrow and moved forward.

Enter ex-lover, Ava Lord.

Oh Dwight… poor bastard never stood a chance.

Review

Femme fatales and crime noir are a match made in heaven (or hell depending on your point of view). They are an immediately strong archetype that grabs your attention, and for Dwight McCarthy, he is no less immune as Ava Lord waltzes back into his life with wide eyed innocence (you know she’s not innocent), full pouty lips (that you want to kiss even if they’re laced with poison), and seductive curves. She injects herself into his veins like an old addiction with new fire.

Dwight comes off as a disciplined man. He does his job. Doesn’t drink, do drugs or smoke. He’s clean shaven (both head and face), lean and trim (with enough muscle to make a boxer pause) and has a sharp intellect.

Four years ago, Ava broke his heart (left him for a richer guy) and it has taken him years to get himself back to the way he wants. And just like that, Ava re-enters his life, all ‘damsel in distress’. Dwight knows she’s trouble. We know she’s trouble. Dwight’s head screams at him to stay out of whatever mess Ava has got herself into. It’s the sane move. The smart move. But, of course, his heart goes for the dumb move.

When the double-cross happens, it is textbook crime noir but thankfully Dwight has an ace up his sleeve. And that ace is the hulking giant that is Marv. I urge readers who have not read volume one of Sin City – The Hard Goodbye to do so before diving into this one. Marv is a wonderful creation and the main protagonist in volume one. His supporting role is key to Dwight’s survival and eventual redemption.

Frank Miller’s writing has the same flow as the previous volume, and there is the unintentional consequence that readers might think Dwight is the same sort of character as Marv. They both have inner demons, they both become afflicted by a purpose driven from a female character, and they both have this thread of decency that seeks to rise above the crime and corruption of Sin City.

Miller attempts to make distinctions between the pair with mixed success. Dwight is smarter. Marv is cunning and loyal. Dwight is not as damaged as Marv, and physically Marv is built like a tank while Dwight is more an athletic hit-man build. The visuals definitely help differentiate the pair, which segues nicely into Miller’s exquisite art.

Black and white, light and shadows, the constant juxtaposition gives Miller’s art a three-dimensional effect which is filled with surprising detail yet in a minimalist way. The smoky atmosphere of a seedy bar, the shine of lipstick on Ava’s lips, the intensity of Dwight’s stares and the lift of his eyebrows, the movements of Nancy the exotic dancer with her cowboy hat and boots, lights through windows, terracotta tiles of roofs and brick walls, the rippling house lights onto a swimming pool… it’s a feast for the eyes if you take the time to absorb its stark and surprising beauty.

However, in the end, Dwight is no Marv. Marv is a far more complex individual and more fascinating as a result. Volume one was mind-blowing, so the bar was set very high indeed. Sin City – A Dame To Kill For is still an engrossing read, and you’ll still be driven to read the next volume in the series. It’s just that big lug Marv in volume one gets under your skin in a way that Dwight in volume two never can.

4 out of 5.

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